English service - January 15, 2023
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
Jesus, His Parents, and the Sword
In our first English worship service of 2023, I want to greet everyone here in person and those online. During the recent holidays, a lot of us have spent time with family. Those relationships often include some of the greatest joys and deepest pains in life, don’t they. Also, many of the most difficult social problems today have at their root the lack of healthy family relationships.
When we said last month that Christ came into this world to be “God with us” (Emmanuel), part of what it meant is that He is here to help us in our connections with people inside our families. To that end, I would like to look with you today at Jesus’ human family, as the gospel writers present it. Let’s focus especially on the parent-child relationships we see in the holy family. When we see what happened between Mary, Joseph, Jesus and their God, it can shine some much-needed light on our way forward in family relationships today. My prayer is that the Lord will use this time in His word to strengthen our families as we go through 2023 and all the days ahead.
We may have a tendency to think of Jesus, the Son of God, and remember His dramatic miracles and famous teachings but forget that He also was a normal human being. For instance, raise your hand if you can remember Christ’s grandfathers’ names. Matthew 1 tells us (v. 16) that Joseph’s father was _____. Luke gives a different father of Joseph (3:23). He says it was _____ (a little different form of Eli), but Bible scholars say he is tracing Jesus’ family line through Mary’s side of the family, as people normally did in that culture and time. In other words, Mary was the daughter of _____, so her husband, Joseph, was the son of _____, in that way of categorizing it.
Jesus was the first child in the family, but Matthew (13:55-56a) tells us that there were four younger brothers—James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. It also mentions “all his sisters” (without naming them). Even if we conservatively count “all” as meaning two, that’s a total of seven children.
Do you suppose Jesus ever had arguments or fights with these brothers and sisters? I suppose He did. How about with His parents? What happened between them and Jesus? If there were troubles, how did they deal with them?
God likes family life, the Bible shows us. He created it and intends to use parent-child relationships and those between children to support and protect human life. Of course, that does not mean that just any type of family relationship leads to human flourishing. As weak and sinful people, we all damage each other through our families as well as helping one another. Yet the family continues to be a uniquely valuable—an irreplaceable—tool God uses to uphold and guide forward human life. Governments cannot replace the family. Teachers cannot replace it. Even churches cannot, though each of these can play an important role in supporting God’s work through families.
As part of their commitment to God, each other, and their community— that they will faithfully and lovingly raise the child they have been given—Joseph and Mary go to the Temple for a baby-dedication ceremony. This is a part of the life of faith for many people today, too. When they do this, they meet a “good and godly man” named Simeon (v. 25).
We don’t know his age from the story, but God has somehow shown him that he will not die before the Messiah is born. He seems to mention death when he prays, “Now let me, your servant, go in peace” (v. 29b). So we imagine him as an older man. If he is, he may remember when Rome took control of his country and the suffering under its rule began. He has been waiting for God nearly all his life to free his people. Listening with an open heart as he has prayed, he has realized that the One they have been waiting for is here.
Simeon’s blessing is a beautiful introduction to the life of Jesus and shows much about who the baby will become. Three key words about this are “salvation” (v. 30), “light” (v.32), and “glory” (v. 32). Some will accept Him, and others will not, but His impact on the world will be great. In another
message, we could explore more of that, but today let’s focus on the last words Simeon gives. It is a comment to Mary: “A sword will wound your own soul too” (v. 35). What could that mean?
After finishing his introduction to Jesus’ early years, Luke tells us (2:51b), “But his mother kept all these things like a secret treasure in her heart.”
When she thinks about the things that have happened as Jesus has been born and begun to grow up, she must try hard to imagine what kind of boy and then man He will be, what it will look like for Him to be the Christ, the Messiah.
She may wonder if the sword is poverty. In dedicating their first boy baby to God (commanded in Exodus 13:2,12), Joseph and Mary would normally give a lamb and a pigeon or a dove as sacrifice in the ceremony (Leviticus 12:6). But because they are poor, an offering of two doves or two pigeons is allowed (Leviticus 12:8), Luke explains (2:23-24). So apparently Mary and Joseph are not able to give their baby Jesus the things that parents long to give their children. Cute baby clothes, a comfortable place to sleep every night, plenty of nutritious food as He continues to grow—all these are probably out of reach for them.
Soon, Mary may think that the sword coming to pierce her soul is danger. King Herod sends soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all recently-born boys, but Joseph takes the family to Egypt and safety, at God’s direction. They leave their home country and begin to live as refugees. They probably have to learn a language and culture they don’t understand very well. Do the Egyptians want them to be there? How good of a health care insurance plan do you think they have? The holy family, there specifically under God’s direction, in line with His will for them, have to learn to live with danger of various types.
When God eventually leads the family back to Palestine and they locate in Nazareth, the parents face another set of difficult circumstances. Luke tells us in 2:41-52 of his story about the time 12-year-old Jesus gets separated from His parents when they are returning from the Passover holiday in Jerusalem. Can you imagine how you would feel if you had to spend three days looking for your own child, not even knowing whether or not he or she was alive? That’s what Mary and Joseph go through in trying to raise Jesus. So Luke may be putting it very mildly when he says that when they finally locate him, they are “amazed” (v. 48). Then:
His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been worried about you. We have been looking for you everywhere.”
“Why were you looking for me?” he asked. “Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?” But they did not understand what he meant by that.
How does it feel to Joseph to hear his Son talk about “my Father’s house” as Someone else’s house and not his? Even if that Someone is God, this has to hurt a little, don’t you think? This man has been called to be father to the Son of God, and it is not easy work.
He and Mary are having to learn that there are times when even parents who love and try their best to raise their children well cannot understand some important parts of their thoughts and feelings. They are being forced to see that they can’t control their child. He has an identity and a calling of His own.
Having to face up to this probably creates pain for Mary and Joseph. It may feel like a sword. We think of our parent-child relationships, both the ones with our parents and, for some of us, with our children. You may know the frustration of trying to control situations or people and finding that it’s just too difficult. You may know what it feels like to realize that your best efforts to understand your children are only partly successful at best.
Mary, Joseph, and we have the opportunity to learn to “hold loosely” those God has put under our care. They are not ours but belong to Him. We are entrusted with them but never own them. Their central purpose has never been to make us happy but to honor God by being the people He has made them to be. In the truest and deepest sense, we cannot raise them. Only God can.
When they are adults and it is time for them to go out on their own, our roles in their lives do not end but change in important ways. Whatever stage of life they and we are in, we cannot be with them in the way that only God can. That is the truth, so we accept that it will set us free—eventually. But when we have to learn it, it may feel like a sword.
Jesus grows up. Maybe Joseph has died by this time. Jesus begins His ministry, but it gets off to a rough start in some ways. He is at a wedding party when the wine runs out. Mary sets the problem before Him. Maybe He needs a push from her to do what He can to help. But He seems to push back, speaking to her in a way that may sound harsh. He doesn’t call her “Mother” or “Mom” but “woman.” Then He asks, “. . . Why do you bring me into this? My time has not yet come” (John 2:4-5,9a).
But Mary accepts His words and tells the servants, “Do what he tells you.” In the end, He has changed water into wine and begun the part of His active ministry which includes miracles.
He continues His work, but it seems to be a very strange one. His parents by faith have expected Him to become the Messiah, the Christ, the Deliverer, which God has promised He will be. But Jesus does not do the kinds of things people expected the One named “The Lord Is Salvation,” the Savior, the Chosen One, to do. He eats with “sinners,” hangs out with tax collectors, lets a prostitute bathe his feet with her tears. He touches lepers and violates Sabbath laws. None of the great leaders of their nation want to follow Him or recognize Him as the Messiah.
Most likely Mary’s dreams for Jesus are dying, in part if not altogether. Jesus’ brothers’ names are all taken from well-known characters of deep faith in the Old Testament. Parents’ hopes and dreams for children are sometimes shown in the names they choose for their children. It may be that Joseph and Mary had hoped for Jesus to be like the great men of faith, honored throughout Israel’s history.
But rather than coming true, that dream seems to be slipping away. Mark tells us (3:21) that when Jesus’ family hears He is a certain place, they go there “. . . to take charge of him.” They say, “He is out of his mind.”
Someone tells Jesus they are there to speak to Him. His reply is not “Really? Great! Send them in!” It is “Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?” Then He says, “Anyone who does what my Father in heaven wants is my brother or sister or mother.” For Mary, who carried Him in pregnancy and gave Him birth, then fed and cleaned and put clothes on Him every day for years, those words must feel something like a sword piercing her soul.
Then, as you are probably expecting, comes the cross. Mary stands near it, John tells us (19:25). She has to watch the Son whom she gave birth die as a criminal. To check and prove that He is dead, one of the soldiers sticks a spear into Jesus' side. Right away, blood and water flows out” (John 19:34b). Now Mary knows for sure what Simeon’s words in the Temple that day meant.
What would Mary feel if she saw someone wearing a cross on a necklace or ring, for example, as many people wear them today? We can only imagine. That cross might be a symbol of nothing but suffering and pain.
Yet somehow, that is not the end of the story. In the middle of all her confusion and lost dreams and pain, Mary begins to see signs that God is still at work. Even from the cross, Jesus has provided for her needs by arranging for John to take her into his home (John 19:26-27). Then comes the resurrection, and everything is turned upside down.
Mary begins to see how her problems have actually been in her inability to see what God has been doing all along. Her hopes and dreams and vision for her Son have simply been far too small to contain all that her Heavenly Father has had in mind. He has been actively at work in the middle of all her struggle and confusion. In fact, He has been using all the difficulties she has had in her relationship with Jesus to make come about everything that He promised in the first place. When He announced that Jesus would come into this world to save God’s people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), this is what He had in mind.
The last we see of Mary in the Bible story, after Jesus has returned to heaven, His disciples are in a place where they regularly gather to pray. The writer notes, “The women joined them too. So did Jesus' mother Mary and his brothers” (Acts 1:14b). It seems that the holy family has reunited. Through His death and resurrection, they have come to see in a deeper way than ever before that God is with them. He is willing and powerful to help them build and rebuild and keep deepening relationships of peace and love between family members. That is the good news that helped Jesus’ family through their struggles. God provides it for us, too, so that we will seek to live as loving, faithful members of the families in which He continues to place us.
Let’s ask Him now to help us do that now.
Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Your Son, Jesus, to teach and empower us to live in healthy, strong relationships with many people in our lives, but especially with family. Despite all the difficulties and failures that are often there for each of us in our family life, continue in us your work of building, protecting, and enriching the lives of your people through our families. Use them to make your love known, felt, and received in this world, which so badly needs it. This is our prayer, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Gill, J. (1746-1763). John Gill's Exposition of the Bible. Retrieved January 8, 2023 from https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/luke-3-23.html
Heitzig, S. (2013, December 17). A Baby in an Old Man’s Arms. Calvary Church Albuquerque. Retrieved January 7, 2023 from https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=n3jusG5CapY&t=442s
Ortberg, J. (2022, December 21). The Two Doorways. Become. Retrieved January 8, 2023 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k19d0 oL1TBE
Sproul, R. C. (n.d.). Song of Simeon. Ligonier Ministries. Retrieved January 8, 2023 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDHtWzKQK6c